The Rockwood Files: Taking My Lumps

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

It started out like any normal Tuesday. I was running late for a dentist appointment. Three-year-old Kate didn’t want to go to her Mother’s Day Out program because she claimed to have a tummy ache, although I was skeptical. There was no time to argue, so I put her in the car and headed to the appointment I’d already postponed twice.

For the record, I’m not afraid of going to the dentist. Never have been. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but it does give me the chance to lie down in a quiet place, which is a luxury for a busy mom.

Things were going along just fine. Kate was happily playing with a toy in the corner while the dentist prepared to fill a small cavity in one of my upper teeth. She gave me two injections to numb that area of my mouth and then left the room for a few minutes while the anesthesia kicked in.

When she came back, she looked at me and said, “Are you okay? What’s going on with your cheek?”

“What do you mean? I can’t feel anything,” I said, happy that the anesthesia was working so well.

Then she placed her hand on my cheek and I could see out of the corner of my eye what she was talking about. In only a few minutes time, a lump that was bigger than a golf ball and smaller than a softball had formed on the right side of my face.

“Have you ever had an allergic reaction before,” she asked. “How are you feeling? Is your breathing all right?”

“No, I’ve never had a reaction before and I feel fine,” I said.

The hygienist began applying an ice pack to my swollen cheek and took my blood pressure every few minutes. I felt normal but my face was anything but. The staff had never seen anything like me before, so they consulted an oral surgeon by phone, who said this was likely a “hematoma” which can form if the injection needle accidentally hits a blood vessel, causing it to bleed into the soft tissue of your face. I know… sounds gross, right?

I assumed the lump would shrink away within an hour or two, so I didn’t sweat it. I asked the dentist to fill my cavity anyway so I could cross this item off my to-do list. Afterward, I took my kid and my lump and climbed into the minivan where I immediately tilted down the rearview mirror so I could get a look at myself.

“Holy moly! This thing is HUGE!”

The only thing more shocking than my face was Tom’s expression when he saw me back at home. “What happened to you!” he asked, confused at how a filling could turn into something that looked like one-sided mumps.

“Hematoma,” I mumbled through mostly numb lips. “Need to keep ice on it.”

I sat down at my computer and consulted with Dr. Google. I found out that what happened was a true dental fluke that typically happens at least once or twice in every dentist’s career. The dentist did nothing wrong, other than working on a patient who’s a magnet for flukes. She even had me see an oral surgeon to confirm I’d be okay, and he assured me that this, too, would pass – in three or four weeks.

I hid out at home that first day because the swelling was so large that I looked like the daughter of The Elephant Man. Kate kept sticking her tongue into her cheek, trying to make hers bulge out like mine. And when the boys got off the school bus, they were shocked by the transformation of their mother’s familiar face.

“I hope that goes away soon, Mom,” said 8-year-old Adam. “I don’t like to see you looking so weird.” That made two of us. And every time 6-year-old Jack saw me, he reminded me to put the ice pack back on my face. I’m not sure if he was trying to help or trying to block his view of it.

By Friday, the swelling had mostly subsided and was replaced by a large, bluish-purple bruise, which the doctors told me to expect. But I was certifiably stir crazy by then, so I brushed off any pride I had left so Tom and I could go out for a kid-free lunch. I covered it as best I could with make-up, but I’m pale by nature so no amount of foundation could keep that purple patch from showing through.

As the waitress took our order, I noticed how she glanced at us nervously, her eyes darting back and forth between the bruise on my face to Tom’s wrist, which happened to be wrapped in a Velcro brace because he’d sprained it doing yard work the weekend before my dental disaster. It looked like she was visibly torn between taking our order and calling the authorities.

I considered explaining it to her, but our far-fetched story would have made us seem even more suspicious. My neighbor, who’s a doctor, tells me gravity will eventually pull my lumpy bruise down onto my neck, so Tom and I will go back to the same restaurant in a week and let the waitress stare at what will look like a hickey by then. Then she can assume that we kissed – really hard – and made up.

For those of you who are skittish of dentists, don’t let this story unnecessarily scare you. It should actually make you feel better! A dental hematoma is rare, and my face has already absorbed all the rockwoodheadshot2010compressed.jpgweird luck that’s floating around out there. You’ll be perfectly fine. You may e-mail me your eternal thanks and gratitude for “taking your lumps.”

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here.  



  1. gwen, the hickey part almost made me spit out my drink! i think a picture is called for. of your cheek, not the hickey.

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